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Modern London-The Casino style of architecture-An original scheme of decoration-Increase of unwieldy statuary-The Allée Verte -Northumberland House-Open spaces-Colonel Sibthorp-Berkeley Square London fountains-The Albert Memorial-Victory or Peace?— Tombs of the Great Dead-Architectural samples-James Gibbs and St. Martin's-in-the-Fields-Mid-Victorian taste-London improvementsTemple Bar-The mystery of its single room-Legal phraseology changes but 6s. 8d. remains-Suburban health resorts of the past-Travelling by canal-boat
ODERN London has no physiognomy, being merely a collection of specimens of various ages. At the present rate, indeed, it seems as if the whole town will be renewed every fifty years-building and rebuilding constantly going on, with the result that the historical significance of metropolitan architecture in the West End at least has been much impaired.
The simple though dignified Georgian style does not apparently satisfy the present generation, which builds itself houses somewhat after the fashion of French casinos.
A number of the façades of new houses, indeed, are overladen with heavy decoration, whilst little care has been taken to execute any good work in those parts of these buildings not in full view of the street, our modern architects not being at all of the same
way of thinking as that Greek sculptor who, being asked why he had carved the back part of a statue let into a temple with as much care as the front, considering no one would see it, answered, “Except the Gods."
With what is practically the rebuilding of a great part of the West End a good deal of interesting old work has disappeared. So great has been the transformation of most houses owing to the craze for the French style, that comparatively few of the old Georgian houses which still stand contain their original interior decorations. The plan of an English town house as it existed a hundred and fifty years ago, can perhaps be best reconstituted by visiting one of those localities which the tide of fashion has left high and dry. Such a one is Soho Square, called King's Square when it was first built; one or two houses here, I believe, still contain interesting mural paintings. The whole south side was once occupied by the Duke of Monmouth, the most unfortunate of all Charles the Second's somewhat numerous progeny.
A great deal of time, thought, and trouble is now devoted to furnishing and adorning a house. In the mid-Victorian era things were very different in this respect.
When, for instance, Thackeray went to live in Palace Gardens, he gave an order to Jackson and Graham much in these terms: "Build me a house according to the submitted plan, and furnish it from top to bottom."
About the most original scheme of house decora
THE SPIRIT OF CHANGE
tion was that devised by the celebrated French dramatist, M. Scribe, when he moved into new rooms in the Rue Pigale.
Five panels in his study showed the history of his life. The first showed an old shop in the Rue de la Cordonniere, with the sign-board — "Scribe, cloth dealer." This was his father's home. The second panel represented "the entrance to the Gymnase Theatre," which was the home in which M. Scribe attained his celebrity. The third was called "Happy Days," and was a picture of his country home at Sericourt. The fourth was called "Honours," and showed the portals of the French Academy, to which M. Scribe belonged; and the last, entitled "Repose," represented a comfortable brougham going along the streets of Paris with the dramatist reclining inside it.
The spirit of change must ever be at work. Old buildings I suppose must be razed to the ground, while others more in keeping with the advance of civilization arise in their place, though too often inferior to their predecessors in massive beauty and grandeur of outline; improvements only as regards increase of accommodation and convenience.
Time was when our cities and towns were built after some definite plan. If in their construction they did not present many pictures of intrinsic beauty, at least they had the specific character of architectural design and uniformity that was far from displeasing to the eye. Many examples of this cultivated mental discipline in buildings still remain, notably in Chester,
Bath, and in several districts in the metropolis which have escaped destruction in the march of modern innovation.
In our modern buildings, for the most part, where ornament is attempted, it is only stuck on, instead of usefully entering into the design of the building. Everywhere there is a visible nakedness of fine and appropriate design.
With an increase of wealth there has generally been a corresponding development in the luxurious arts, of which the beautiful in architecture has not been the last to advance. The prosperous commerce of the Middle Ages, by fostering the arts, built up the palaces of Italy-notably of Venice, Genoa, and Florence; and in our own country, what is called Elizabethan architecture owes an infinite deal to the mercantile spirit that sprang up immediately after other lands than those of Europe were opened up to the enterprise of Englishmen. It seems, however, in our day that this educated feeling has died out in the hurry to get rich.
Paris is the only city in the world that has not retrograded in its architecture; but then, it must be remembered that in Paris the style of street architecture is controlled. In this country people build as they like. There is no artistic authority to direct their operations, and the general public having neither taste nor voice in the matter, the result is a street architecture which neither the weather nor fogs nor smoke can render more unsightly.
THE ALLÉE VERTE
Modern London can scarcely congratulate itself upon its statuary. If, however, the quality is bad the quantity is rapidly increasing, and what is more alarming is that the parks are now becoming encumbered with unwieldy and not very appropriate memorials,—that to the late Queen Victoria perhaps is not so bad from a decorative point of view, but its ornate and elaborate detail make it a queer memorial to the great old Queen who above all things liked simplicity. Also the spot where it has been set up is none too suitable, for Queen Victoria was never very fond of Buckingham Palace, indeed at one time she had a great aversion to residing there, the reason being that the place was then infested with rats and bugs. For a period various professors of extermination "worked in vain "—the rats and bugs could not be got rid of, and invaded the Royal apartments, to the great disgust of the Queen.
Soon we are to see a memorial to the late King Edward; this I gather is to be placed at the end of the new allée verte, near Piccadilly, to which, however, the King's back is to be turned, a rather unfair way of treating this great artery of the metropolis.
Curiously enough, the allée verte mentioned above has almost escaped notice, though there can be no doubt it is an immense improvement upon the ridiculous road which it replaced.
The restoration of this bit of green to the Park is, I understand, entirely due to the present First Com